Monday, July 25, 2005
Last night at the Open Door I explained a little about why we use Icons in our worship. It's an interesting conversation to have, I think, considering we're of a tradition that does not use icons in worship. In fact many of the reformers did not allow anything visual in worship. Zwingli even got rid of all music because it was a distraction. So, those of us who are "reformed" and believe the use of visuals in worship is ok had better think theologically about why. I want to blog on this so I can get some push back.
During my first semester at seminary I remember being in Scott Sunquist's church history class. As he was teaching about the early Eastern church's use of icons I remember thinking that the visuals we had begun using in our worship were similar to icons. Alyssa and I had been running a "second screen" of visuals at our church, Community Worship. These visuals were simply pictures that we thought would draw people into worship. We used pictures of candles, stained glass, and crosses, also biblical pictures and even a few icons of the Eastern church. In class Dr. Sunquist asked if anyone had worshiped using icons, I raised my hand and said that my Presbyterian church used icons. As I explained he seemed very interested, but the rest of the class seemed shocked. I must admit it's kinda fun shocking sheltered seminary students!
Last night I explained that during the Old Testament times people were instructed to stay away from anything visual that represented Yahweh. All the other god's of the time were represented in the natural world, usually by cows or other statues. These statues were understood to show the likeness of their god. Yahweh was different. Yahweh was completely beyond anything physical. The people understood that Yahweh could not be represented as a cow or by any other animal because he was far superior to any thing he had created. So the people worshiped without a visual representation of the divine.
But a man named Jesus walked the earth. Jesus was the physical depiction of God. I believe that through Jesus all creation has received the possibility of redemption. It is because of Jesus that we can see the incarnate God in all of the goodness in his redeemed creation. When Eastern Orthodox Christians look into the eyes of a painting of Jesus they look as though that painting is a window into the unseen world of God. Paintings are not worshiped, but they draw us into worship of the reality of God. I believe the salvific power of God through Jesus allows us to use all of creation as a window or icon of the divine. A sunset often draws me into worship, or the stars on a clear night. These things are a part of God's creation which can draw us into worship of the unseen holiness of God, just as Eastern Orthodox paintings can draw us into the reality of the incarnation and the reality of a now unseen physical body of Jesus Christ.
The physical world is not evil and it will be fully redeemed one day. Here's the part that really makes this whole thing come home for me... by the way I'm getting this from a very reformed theologian! Jesus did not forget his physical body when he ascended into heaven, it's not in the grave, the physical body has ascended into heaven representing salvation and justification for the whole physical world. Icons represent the redemption of the physical world. Icons are possible because of Jesus. Jesus was and is a human being with a physical body. Paintings representing the physical body of Jesus are good things in worship, they remind us that we are not worshiping an unseen God, rather God has made himself seen through the body of Jesus. All creation is his and all creation can lead us to understand Him better.
Of course the physical world can distract us from God, and the physical world is still infected with sin. The physical world is not God, but it is God's creation which he loves and which he will fully redeem. God is fully beyond the physical world in his being. But creation and the creative ability of humanity, in it's redeemed state, is a window into the reality of God.